Ever since New Horizons completed its flyby of Pluto in July, NASA has been gracing the denizens of spaceship Earth with enough Pluto porn to last a lifetime. Each image seems to be better than the one before, revealing the staggering beauty and complexity of our favorite planet that is not a planet.
NASA may have finally outdone itself with the trippy image above however, which was taken by New Horizons on July 14 from 22,000 miles away. It was presented last Monday at the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Pluto's psychedelic portrait is a stunning example of a technique known as principal component analysis. PCA is typically used to highlight variation patterns within a dataset and in this case, the color differences are being used to highlight Pluto's distinct regions.
In the photo, the large barren region in the center is the Tombaugh Regio, which sits just north of Pluto's massive ice mountains. Tombaugh's lack of craters suggests that these sprawling icy planes are less than 100 million years old, a feature that points to points to possible geological activity on Pluto. To the southwest is the Cthulhu Regio, the darkest spot on the dwarf planet, which some researchers speculate is due to the surface of this area being covered with a tar made of hydrocarbons called tholins.